Now, when you usually think of endangered species, what locations do you imagine? The Amazon Rainforest, the African Savannah, perhaps the jungles of India, or the misty bamboo-clad mountains of China are what most people imagine.
While those locations may hold some of the world’s famous and charismatic endangered wildlife, there are still many areas that are very under-represented, and deserve more conservation effort than they are currently getting. Take for example the Panoche Valley, an arid expanse of grassland and saltbrush plains in a remote region of Central California. It’s home to a number of wonderful, little-known rarities: Giant Kangaroo Rats, Tulare Grasshopper Mice, San Joaquin Antelope Squirrels, Blunt-nosed Leopard Lizards, San Joaquin Kit Foxes, and Mountain Plovers to name a few.
Let me first begin by stating directly that some rats, mice, squirrels, and lizards will never capture the attention of the world like Jaguars, Cheetahs, Lions, Elephants, Rhinos, Tigers, or Pandas. But then again, the whole reason behind this blog is to also raise attention to those species that are less represented, and perhaps give them a chance too… On the Monday of October 28 (a long weekend for me), I visited the Panoche Valley for my fifth time, to experience its remote beauty and perhaps catch a glimpse of some of its most special inhabitants.
I first visited this amazing valley in December 2011, and having spent half a day searching for wildlife and completely failing, I nearly vowed never to go back again, and decided that maybe a rather hasty Solar Farm development isn’t such a bad thing in this precious place: one that I back then mistakenly assumed was lifeless. I returned again in October 2012 to give the valley a second chance, and it delivered: a fabulous sighting of a Bobcat and my first glimpse of a San Joaquin Kit Fox were all I needed to realize how special this region truly is.
Now for my trip… I had an amazing time: I saw a San Joaquin Kit Fox, a Prairie Falcon, two Giant Kangaroo Rats, and best of all, my first ever American Badger, which ran alongside a fenceline just under seven feet away from our car, giving mind-blowing views! This trip, more than any other, made me realize that this place wasn’t just the site of another controversial project: it was one with a special place in my heart and many others’, all who realize the impact it may have and wildlife it may endanger. So ultimately, perhaps the lesson from this is not only that we need to put more effort into thoughtfully designing our infrastructure projects, but also that there are plenty of endangered species that deserve more attention than they’re currently getting and need help. Species like those in the Panoche Valley, a place known by few even in the San Francisco Bay Area.
UPDATE: On a recent visit to Panoche Valley on November 29, 2013, I observed an American Badger right at dusk as well as what was most likely a San Joaquin Kit Fox. This has been the best year for mammals, particularly Badger, ever in the Panoche Valley since I started visiting several years ago – perhaps the exceptionally dry weather is playing a part.
So perhaps spend a few minutes of the day reading about the plight of many lesser-known species too along with Rhinos, Cheetahs, and Elephants: maybe the Mala, Slender Loris, Angwantibo, or Uakari. It’s not just Polar Bears, Tigers, and Lions that are endangered…plenty more species that you’ll discover are just as charismatic need our help. Perhaps more-so than any other, that’s the lesson that the Panoche Valley has taught me.